Tom Hindman / AP

Coal executive guilty of misdemeanor conspiracy

Former Massey Energy CEO convicted of conspiring to willfully violate safety standards in relation to deadly mine blast

Former Massey Energy chief Don Blankenship was convicted on Thursday of a misdemeanor conspiracy charge related to a coalmine explosion in West Virginia that killed 29 men. The conviction could carry a sentence of up to one year in prison.

A 12-member jury in the U.S. District Court in Charleston found the former industry executive guilty of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards. 

He was acquitted of two other more serious charges in connection to the 2010 blast, including defrauding mine regulators and lying to financial regulators and investors about safety. 

Blankenship was at one time one of the richest and most powerful men in Appalachia, and Massey Energy was once worth $2.6 billion.

Observers had doubted that his trial would ever take place — and Blankenship's lawyers were able to delay and change the location of trial dates since he was indicted last year.

What's more, worker deaths hardly ever lead to criminal prosecutions, especially in coal-friendly West Virginia — prompting some to call the trial "historic."

Prosecutors said Blankenship was a micromanager who meddled in the smallest details at the mine and cared more about money than safety. Blankenship's multimillion-dollar defense team said the government had no evidence he was involved in a conspiracy.

The jury, which said twice they couldn't agree on a verdict, deliberated for all or part of nine days. Blankenship was indicted in November 2014 and his trial began Oct. 1.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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